The Element Wines Story; Boutique Wine Producers in Hawke’s Bay

The story of how Dom and Rachelle met is so adorable, it could be made into a movie.  The setting was their hometown, Auckland, New Zealand, and it was Tuesday, the 14th of January, 2002.  Rachelle was out for lunch, celebrating her cousin’s birthday.  Her cousin joked with the server that she should get a free drink as it was her birthday; the server told her she couldn’t, dampening the mood, so the girls decided to take their business elsewhere.  Little did she know, Rachelle was about to walk into the restaurant where her future life and wine partner worked.  The girls entered Wildfire, and took their places at the bar.  Dom casually sat down next to them, and was minding his own business; Rachelle goofily wacked the new patron next to her on the leg and told him that they had great drinks at this place, and he should try one.  He mentioned that he’d actually tried, and made, all of the drinks there, before turning to show her his work t-shirt with the Wildfire logo on it.  He took the rest of the night off, and bought dinner for the girls.  At the end of the night, he wanted Rachelle’s number.  Feeling a bit serendipitous, Rachelle told him she’d give it to him, but she wouldn’t allow him to write it down; if he could remember it, he could call her.  Thank goodness for Dom’s memory, because he did retain the number after hearing it only once, and as they say, the rest is history. 

Fast forward to 2019, and Dom and Rachelle now own and run Element Wines, a boutique vineyard and wine label in the Gimblett Gravels micro-climate of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, with their two daughters, Zoë and Zaymia, a couple of cats, Turbo and Bubbles, and one big German Pointer, Brewski, all in tow! 

So how did two Auckland-raised Kiwi’s end up in the Gimblett Gravels, running a vineyard and wine label?  The simple answer, is that they decided that life was too short not to follow their dreams.  The longer, more complicated story includes tonnes of courage, some definite ups and downs, overcoming a lot of hurdles, and binding together to spend their days creating something they love and are proud of, while enjoying their lives as a family.

A day in the life of the Smith family includes high school for the girls, and everything that comes with that, like homework, sport, friends and slumber parties. The girls have spent the last several years helping in the vineyard when they’re finished their schoolwork, and it’s definitely a family affair.  They help with everything from pruning to harvest, and have developed an impressive knowledge of wine-making for their ages.  In addition to running Element, Dom also works full time at Sacred Hill Winery as the Cellar Supervisor.  Rachelle spends her days tending to the vineyard, and running her family.  A typical weekend includes playing with the pets, sitting on their beautiful deck that overlooks their vineyard, and enjoying delicious food, once the vineyard work is done, of course.  Zoë and Zaymia make the Sunday pancakes or waffles, but Rachelle makes the best French Toast.  Dom can craft a mean, made from scratch pizza in his clay oven, or roast incredibly tender and flavourful meats, but whatever the menu, there is always a delicious wine pairing to complete the meal, along with satisfaction after a day’s hard work. 

Owning a vineyard seems romantic, and ideal, and in some respects, it can be.  Most of the time though, it’s really tiresome, and the work never ends.  There’s something to be done in every season of the year.  If it’s spring, the vines are beginning to bud, and need to be watched and protected from frost.  Summer brings growth and ripening, and lots of vineyard and machinery maintenance.  With autumn comes harvest time, unpredictable weather that could potentially destroy a whole season’s fruit, as well as the pressures of making the right decision of when to harvest. Then, the grapes need to be processed, and the wine needs to be made, and maintained, while winter requires pruning in the vineyard to set it up for a healthy spring, when the work cycle repeats. I was curious to find out how all of this became the couple’s dream.

Rachelle didn’t grow up in an industry family, but she was around wine as a child.  She has memories of her god-mother letting her try watered down wines to see what they tasted like.  She also had family and friends with wine labels or vineyards, and she would spend time at their houses; this lead to her developing a comfort and familiarity with the vineyard environment.  Dom didn’t grow up industry either, but was the son of two teachers.  Although his parents drank wine, it was Dom’s hospitality work that opened his eyes to amazing wine. He remembers feeling like he had the world at his fingertips when it came to the wines he was able to experience, both from the old and new worlds. When he used to go out with his buddies as a teen, he noticed that he was among the few whose alcohol choice for the night was a fine wine; he realized that he was actually quite fond of it.  He found satisfaction in making the perfect recommendation for guests in his restaurant, or showing them something different; he once made a recommendation to a Wine Spectator writer, without realizing it, and was thanked and acknowledged by the writer’s wife for making an exceptional pairing.  

Once Dom and Rachelle got together, wine became a big part of their dating life.  They talked about their bucket-list wines, and tried many of them together.  (Trying those bucket-list wines is still something they do today; they can both recall the specific flavours and intensities of a 2006 Dom-Perignon they shared as a celebration of overcoming vineyard hardships.)  Owning a vineyard became their “Lotto-dream.”  If they ever struck it rich, they’d buy one! Ironically, due to hard times, they were put in a position with the business they owned in Auckland where they either had to rebuild, or move on. They were at a fork in their road, and they knew it. Dom had a memorable conversation with a good neighbour friend one evening who recommended that Rachelle and Dom see this as an opportunity to follow their dreams.  They felt the same way, so they did.  

It was the 19th of November, 2012, when Element was born. 

Dom had been able to find employment at a winery in the Bay, so they began looking at Hawke’s Bay properties for their own vineyard.  They also favoured the wines that come out of the region; they love Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Dom quipped that he would rather make “not-Sauvinon Blanc and have no money, than make Sauv Blanc and have money!” He’d been commuting between his job in the Bay and his family in Auckland since that August.  The couple had hummed and hawed over which property to go with, but kept coming back to a special one in the Gimblett Gravels.  It was a 4.2 hectare property, with 2.6 hectares under vine.  The vineyard had Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet and Viognier, the wines they wanted to make, not to mention gorgeous lavender that caught Rachelle’s eye. They ended up choosing the property for the vineyard, and not really caring about the specific layout or décor of the house! They got possession on that November day, and the girls still hadn’t seen the house. Rachelle took them to meet Dom to see it together, but Dom was held up at work, so they went for a drink down the road to wait. It really is a family affair! Then, all together, the family complete, Dom, Rachelle, Zoë and Zaymia walked into their new home, to begin a new life and a new adventure. 

Vineyard life didn’t exactly welcome them with rainbows and butterflies.  They had no furniture, and slept on air beds for a couple of months. The girls remember waking up that Christmas together in their half deflated air bed, that they were sharing to save on linen.  The vineyard had been damaged by frost that spring.  Dom had to learn to drive a tractor.  He had to learn to spray.  He had never done any vineyard work before.  He describes it as just having to “jump on board and figure it out.”  He tells the story of one particular night, where a storm was coming in, and he was trying to hook up some hydraulics on a machine.  It was 3.00am by the time he got it going and was able to spray.  To top it all off, he stepped on his sunglasses and broke them.  It was a long, hard night, to say the least. This wasn’t exactly the romantic dream they had envisioned!  It wasn’t all bad though.  The family has lots of fun memories of being together, all learning how to run the vineyard.  Everything was a novelty at first, even for the girls, and they enjoyed lifting wires, bud rubbing, and doing other jobs together.  Although Dom is quite certified now, in the beginning, they were largely self-taught, but they had some helpful neighbours and colleagues that supported them along the way.

After spending time with Dom and Rachelle this year, and seeing how challenging it can be to own a vineyard, I asked them why they chose that route, rather than just purchasing fruit for their label, like so many others do.  Why bother with the work?  Dom replied that it “seemed logical that you grow it and make it.”  They wanted the whole process.  Starting from the beginning, and having control over their fruit is part of their wine-making philosophy.  “Our story is that we grow everything that we make,” explains Dom.  A holistic approach is very important to them.

They strongly believe in nurturing the land, and that less is more.  “We have to tread lightly and look after the land,” Dom shares.  Although they’re not certified organic, they prefer all organic practices. They don’t use any harmful chemicals or sprays on their vineyard.  “My kids and my dog play here,” Dom says about their land.  It’s their home, and they take pride in caring for it. 

Another important company mandate to mention is that Element strives for a “true, terrior driven wine,” which is why they don’t mind to break away from popular trends and make wines that aren’t influenced by oak.  They currently use no new oak in any of their wines (even the reds) and are moving towards eliminating all oak use soon.  Many of Dom’s favourite wines from the old world haven’t touched new oak.  He remembers some specific wines from France that were made in either neutral oak or concrete, and he describes that “they get this intensity and expression from the vineyard and fruit not manipulated by anything else.”

After hearing their wine-making practices and philosophies, it made perfect sense to me why they chose their name, Element.  Their wines, born of the earth, from the vine, through the grapes, and into the bottle, truly reflect a sense of place, and are something completely unique to them. 

So where can I find this special, unique wine?  Customers can order directly from Element via their Instagram handle, @element_wines, their website, http://www.elementwines.co.nz, or see it on some wine lists throughout New Zealand. Rachelle offers tastings by appointment (021 146 8925) as well.

Options are Viognier, Cabernet Merlot blends, and Syrah from Element, as well as potentially a 2018 vintage 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although they don’t enter wine shows, their Syrah has been their most highly accoladed wine with their 2016 Syrah getting 93 points from Cameron Douglas, Master Sommelier, and 93 points with The Wine Front in Australia.  Their Cabernet Merlots have certainly been popular among customers as well, and are often quick to sell out.  Element is truly boutique, meaning they produce only around 100 cases of wine per year, so if you want to get your hands on some, do it soon!

Their Viognier is aromatic, fresh and floral, with a beautiful oiliness to it that melts in your mouth. The Syrahs have that classic pepper spice, loads of cherry and liquorice, and a flinty minerality that can only come from the soil. The Cabernet Merlots have great structure, red and dark plum and black currants, a lovely hint of cocoa and beautiful soft, round tannins.

In reflecting on their wines and their journey, Dom and Rachelle realized they’ve already overcome several challenges.  They definitely had an uphill journey, especially at the start.  They had to learn how to manage a vineyard, while running a family. This means they have to sacrifice a lot of their personal time, and days off, to ensure that the girls and the vineyard both get the dedication they require.  Trying to find a trustworthy place to make and store their wine was a challenge as well.  They don’t have a winery on site, so to find a safe place where they could make their wine that would allow them creative control was a journey, but one that has rewarded them with a currently great home for their wines, and the all important creative freedom.  Having a vineyard is a lot like farming; the weather interferes negatively sometimes, and then they’re faced with challenges of how to work around that.  “It’s hard work, and hard work has to go in, in order to get the rewards,” Rachelle says. “When you’re small, you have to do more to reap the rewards.”  Lots of others also want to have their share, and have tried to get wine for less than nothing. 

When I asked them if owning the vineyard has been worth it, they both replied in a heartbeat, with a resounding, “absolutely!”  They’ve learned a lot about themselves, and each other, their relationship and their family.  It’s taught them that they still love each other at the end of the day.  It gives Rachelle the freedom to be a stay at home parent, who can be available when the girls need their Mom.  Dom shared that they’ve learned that “wine can bring amazing people together, because it has.”  They have made amazing friends within this industry, and the friendships they’ve gained, have been “the coolest thing it’s done.”  If there are three passions that consistently come through when spending time with Dom and Rachelle, they’re family first, relationships, and of course, wine. 

Pictured left to right: Dom, Zaymia, Rachelle, Zoë

We met Dom and Rachelle in the exact way adults always warn children to never make friends – over the internet!  When Greg and I decided to move to Hawke’s Bay, I started Instagram messenging every winery in the Bay that I could find.  Instagram used to lock me out after so many, and I would have to wait 24 hours before I could send more messages.  A lot of them never replied, but Dom did.  He was the first to reply to me, actually, and explained that they were a small winery, and couldn’t offer us jobs, but that he would help in any way he could.  After conversing with Dom for a few days, he invited us to come for a wine with him and his partner when we arrived.  I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen, but I said that we would love to.  I continued to message back and forth with Dom over the last month we were in Canada, with so many random New Zealand questions.  I think I actually asked him if they had peanut butter here! He was extremely helpful the whole time.  Once we had arrived, it was Dom that I sent a picture to of the first cockroach I had killed asking what it was and if it was poisonous! (We don’t have them in Canada.)  We did end up going for a wine with Dom and Rachelle, on only our second day here, and that wine turned into a dinner, 5 hours of conversation, and the start of a great friendship.

In the time we have gotten to know Dom, Rachelle and the girls, I can clearly see their strength, resilience, perseverance and dedication.  They were so brave to leave their life, family and everything they knew in Auckland, to move to the Bay and follow their dream.  They didn’t know if it would work out or not, and they took a huge risk; I have found though, that the greatest risks in life can lead to some of the greatest rewards.  Dom and Rachelle still work incredibly hard, and they invest their hearts, souls, and pocketbooks into Element.  They love their daughters more than anything in the world, and they’re doing a great job raising the girls; Zoë and Zaymia are beautiful inside and out.  Dom and Rachelle are some of the kindest, most hospitable, generous, and down to earth people we know. We are honoured to call them our friends.

Oh, and by the way…

…they make some pretty exceptional wine!

Two Canadians, A Campervan and New Zealand’s South Island

It’s been over 6 months of us working in this country, and we have now earned holiday time! Vintage is done, and Air NZ started offering really affordable flights within the country. All of this meant that we could finally get to the South Island, and we were so excited to explore it!

As people heard we were going south, they all gave us their lists of the must-do’s! We appreciated all the cool, local tips, but unfortunately we didn’t have a year to actually cross them all off… New Zealand offers almost never ending exploring! So we picked the things that sounded the most intriguing to us, accounted for our budget and time allowances, and carefully planned (on my end) a jam-packed, 6 day adventure, in a campervan, of course!

We got an amazing flight deal to Christchurch, so we headed there early Wednesday morning, thankfully just missed the fog, and landed on time at 8:05am. We picked up our Campervan from Jucy, and hit the road, as we had an appointment to get to in the Waipara area of the Canturbury Wine Region.

I won’t go into too much detail about the wineries we visited on this trip, but we uprooted our entire lives, and moved to this country specifically to work in wine; clearly it was high on the priority list for this holiday, as it usually is.

Bell Hill

The wine in the South Island is very different than it is where we work in the North. We work in the warmest wine growing region in the country, with very vast and diverse soil types; the wine regions in the South Island have completely different soil from each other, and from the North; they also have their own unique climates, and therefore, produce unique versions of some of the grape varietals we have in the North, and also some completely different varietals altogether. We tried lots of Pinot Noir on this trip, some Chardonnay and bubbly wine, as well as many aromatic whites, like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir based Roses, and even a Muscat, that was dry and surprisingly enjoyable.

In Canterbury, we visited Bell Hill, and had a private tour around their biodynamic and organic boutique vineyards, on incredible slopes, with the vines showing off the beautiful autumn colours. We tried some Pinot Noirs out of barrel. We visited Pegasus Bay, which had beautiful grounds, some very nice wines, and a friendly and knowledgeable Cellar Door host.

Tasting in the Bell Hill caves
Pegasus Bay Cellar Door
Pegasus Bay

We also visited the winery with two labels that belongs to this year’s New Zealand Winemaker of the Year, Greystone and Muddy Water. The Winemaker at my workplace has won that award 2 times in the last 5 years, and we have amazing wine, so I had very high expectations for this place, which I feel is fair. If you are considered the best Winemaker in the country, your Cellar Door should support that, and the visitors that you will undoubtedly bring, and give an exceptional experience. This one, sadly, did not. The host was unfriendly, made no effort at conversation, and was actually outrightly rude to us with a couple comments. Thankfully, the Marketing Manager overheard some of our questions and came out to speak with us for a while, and he was great. If it weren’t for him, we would have had a terrible experience there.

We made our way back into Christchurch for the remainder of the afternoon, did a bit of shopping for some winter gear and groceries, and drove around to see the sights.

A highlight for me was the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial for the people who died in the 2011 earthquake. It was chilling to see, and served as a reminder that life is short and fragile, and should be valued and lived to the full. We had a quick dinner at what I describe as a funky, more upscale food court, Little High.

We visited one of Christchurch’s older and highly awarded bars, the OGB Bar, and had a great experience. One of their employees did a wine tour with me a couple months back on his holiday, and invited me to visit him there on our trip, and him and his colleagues made sure we were taken great care of!

Then, it was time for a very late dinner and wine, once we found somewhere to camp! We used the Ranker’s Campervan App to help us find everything we needed to on our trip. It showed all of the places we could park, empty our tanks, etc., with reviews, photos and prices. We searched for the free options, and found a place just outside of the city to park. I’ll elaborate on the campervan later.

We woke up early on Thursday to get a good head start on our drive to Lake Tekapo.

The Lake Tekapo famous church

The scenery was beautiful on the way, as we made our way into the mountains. We spent the afternoon in Tekapo; we got some photos with the famous church on the lake, and then took a moment to pause inside and admire the view of the lake through the windows on the back wall. What a great place to go to church! We opted to walk to the top of Mount John, which was a short, fairly easy but steady climb.

Almost to the top of Mount John
The view
Snacks at the Astro Cafe

We enjoyed views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and some coffee and dessert in the sun at the Astro Cafe, before heading back down for lunch. We parked the van alongside the lake for a gorgeous view, had a picnic and some Riesling, and then headed to the Tekapo Hot Springs.

We had a booking for 2:00, but because we picked the date and time ahead, we were able to get a great deal on a site called bookme.co.nz. We enjoyed a couple of hours there, soaking in the warm water, and soaking up that view, before heading on.

Next, we drove to Lake Pukake, and stopped for some views of Mount Cook, and then made our way through the Lindess Pass, which was beautiful at sunset, and then onto Cromwell, where we wanted to start our next day.

Classic NZ highway photo
Lindess Pass at sunset
Admiring Mount Cook and Lake Pukake

We found another free camp spot on the Ranker’s App, right next to the lake, and it was such a gorgeous spot. I can’t believe some of the amazing, free camp grounds New Zealand has! I kept saying to Greg, “why is this free…?” In Canada or the USA, those would have been costly spots.

“Pancake Saturday” was moved to Friday, as we had the time in the morning, and the lakeside spot to enjoy! As we awoke in Cromwell, we were already amongst many more great wineries we were excited to visit! This is when it really started feeling like a holiday to me; finally, we had made it to Central Otago, another world renown wine region on our bucket list!

We definitely started off with the bar high, as we visited the appointment only Cellar Door of Felton Road for a tour and tasting with the owner’s daughter. Bookings are required well in advance to get a spot. She was fantastic, as was their philosophy, place, and wine, and we loved our experience there.

Felton Road tasting set up
Felton Road Cellar Door

We followed that up with another amazing experience at Mt Difficulty. It was a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day, and we took in the expansive views of Central Otago on their patio in the warm sun for a delicious and generous platter, that was a special treat for me from a reward card I received at work. After we ordered, we did a complimentary tasting to help us decide what to have with lunch. By the time we finished our tasting, our food was ready for us. We enjoyed our time there so much!

Views with the platter and wine at Mt Difficulty

Other wineries we visited in the Cromwell area were Carrick, and Akarua; we had positive experiences at both of them as well. We then jumped back in the Jucy van to head for Dunedin! The drive was absolutely beautiful the entire way; we arrived around dinner time, and spent the evening with friends.

Baldwin Street

They took us for dinner at a quaint and delicious Italian place, and then drove us to the top of Signal Hill to view the city, as well as took us for a spin up and down the steepest street in the world! We parked the van outside their house that evening, and funnily enough, we weren’t the only Jucy van on the street.

In the morning, we grabbed coffees and had a visit with our friends before making our way around Dunedin to see St Clare Beach, and the famous Railway Station; as it was Saturday, we visited the Farmer’s Market where we purchased some fresh fish and produce for dinner, before making our way back to Central Otago, where we’d spend the next 3 days.

We arrived in Wanaka mid-afternoon, so we went to Rippon, another famous winery with, yet again, amazing wines and an exceptional view!

We also visited Maude Wines, where we had the perfect spot on their comfy couch with blankets in their sun room, overlooking lake Wanaka.

We each had a seated tasting flight of different wines, and then enjoyed a glass in the sun. Our host at Maude was extremely welcoming and knowledgeable, and made us feel very comfortable during our visit.

After we were done relaxing at Maude, we headed down to That Wanaka Tree, to get some sunset photos. We were amongst a group, but got some beautiful shots. I love when I get to see something in real life that I’ve been seeing on Instagram for a while!

That Wanaka Tree at sunset
That Wanaka Tree at sunrise

We checked out another cute wine bar in Wanaka called The Cork Bar. It was warm, dim, and comfortable. So many of these places remind me of small mountain towns in British Columbia, and the whole Wanaka/Queenstown area made me feel quite at home.

At The Cork Bar, I tried some Black Peak Pinot Noir, who’s Winemaker and owner had been in to work last week. We also tried some Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, that came highly recommended, and loved it.

As Wanaka is such a famous tourist spot all year long, there are no free campsites there. We were fortunate to have a friend who’s father lives in Wanaka, and allowed us to park in his driveway for the evening. We carb loaded for our upcoming hike with some pasta, and enjoyed a bottle of wine before bed. We had purchased some candles by this point, so we had our usual ambience and didn’t have to run the bright LED lights in the van!

The next morning, we were up at 6:00am to eat breakfast, grab some sunrise photos of That Wanaka Tree, and make it to the base of the Roy’s Peak Hike for daylight at shortly after 8:00am.

Roy’s Peak Ridge

We were up to the ridge by 10:00am, took our photos, and decided to go for the summit. It was pretty cold up there, but we were glad we made the extra treck to complete the hike. The views were stunning and we had the place to ourselves.

Roy’s Peak Summit, 1578m

We had lunch back down at the ridge, and started our descent just as the rain began. By the time we got to the bottom it was full on pouring, and we were drenched! Thankfully we started when we did that morning, because had we even been 1 hour later, our view would have been largely lost in the rain clouds and fog.

Very wet after finishing Roy’s Peak

Many reviews strongly suggest a high fitness level is required for this hike, and I completely agree. It’s steep, and it’s all up, sometimes at a 45° angle, with basically no plateaus, for hours. And then you have to come down…potentially in the rain or snow, depending on the season. You must wear proper clothing, shoes, and layers. It is almost 1600 meters in elevation; the conditions are considered Alpine at the ridge and upwards, and with all that uphill climbing, if you’re not wet from the rain, you’re wet from the sweat. I was so thankful to have key parts of my work uniform on; I wore my amazing Icebreaker Merino wool jersey and Merino wind proof vest, all thanks to my awesome company outfitting me for the winter. The hike was absolutely worth all the effort and sore knees; in exchange we got some of the best views we’ve ever seen in our lives, and some pretty amazing photos.

Rainbow and mountain views from Roy’s Peak Summit

We had a makeshift shower with baby wipes when we got back into the Jucy van, and were happy to get out of our completely drenched clothing. We hung it all around the van, but the van unfortunately never got warm enough to dry any of it. I got creative to dry my hair.

We headed for Arrowtown, and walked around a bit there.

We found a candy store and got some fudge, but were stiff and cold, and just wanted to sit down. We found a cool restaurant that was just about to close, The Chop Shop, but they gave us a table. Greg had a thirst quenching beer, and I had a warm coffee with Baileys and it hit the spot perfectly. We ordered a dessert, and ended up getting 3 more free because they were using them up before closing!

Do you want another dessert on the house? Yes, please.

We headed to, guess where… more wineries! Are you surprised? We fit in short visits to Peregrine, Gibbston Valley, and then had a nice long tasting at Mt Rosa.

Peregrine Cellar Door

The owners of Mount Rosa had come to do a tasting with me at my workplace in the Bay at Christmas time, and one of my good friends is heading down to help them out for several weeks this winter while they go on vacation! As the owner knew me, he had us in way past close, and gave us a very personalized tasting. We enjoyed his wine, and the cozy, warm, rustic atmosphere!

We made our way into Queenstown that evening to check it out, and then found a campsite in the area. Queenstown doesn’t have any free sites either, but we found a decent one for only $13/each. Greg cooked up a nice meal, and we relaxed in the van, as it was still pouring outside!

The next morning, after a stop at Starbucks (yes, whenever I get the chance) we traded in the Jucy van for a car, as the van specifically had to be back during certain hours, and our flight home the following day wouldn’t allow for that to work. We took the car around the area, and did our last set of wineries: Chard Farm, which has an amazing, 2km cliff side drive in, Wet Jacket and Whitestone Cheesery, which is in an old wool shed and has a super cosy atmosphere, and then Amisfield, which was closed for repairs, so I was quite disappointed to miss them.

Chard Farm’s driveway along the left
Visiting Wet Jacket with wet jackets
Wet Jacket Cellar Door
Bald Hill

The rain had stopped by then, so we ate up the rest of our groceries outside the boot of the car! We went to Bald Hill instead of Amisfield, and then it was time to check into our hotel.

We stayed right close to downtown Queenstown, which was amazing. We got straight to laundry, as our hiking gear was all still soaking wet, and we weren’t sure how we’d get it home that way! We visited with some friends from home, who also happened to be on holiday in Queenstown!

Then we walked downtown from our hotel and checked out the shops, as well as this very cool bar, The Winery.

Inside The Winery

It has many enomatic machines, that work like a Coravin, allowing small tastes of a bottle of wine to be poured from it without oxygen getting in. We were able to try several new wines, and I got that Amisfield wine after all. It was a lovely evening, and we enjoyed some cheese and crackers on the balcony of our hotel before bed, and also really enjoyed a hot shower, a real toilet, and a King size bed! As much as we loved the hotel for the last night, we really did like the Jucy van.

Our Jucy van was just what we needed for this trip.

Fuel prices

It was small enough to get good fuel mileage (which matters a lot here – fuel on the South Island was around a whopping $2.40/litre, and that’s not a typo); it was still big enough to have a functioning bathroom. We had a small living area with benches, and a table that we could set up for dinner. That same area converted to a bed for the night.

There was also a bed option up above, but with just us, we didn’t need to use that one for anything but storage. It came with a kitchenette, and all of the dishes we needed. It also had towels, and bedding. The weather was quite cold (for NZ) at this time of year, and got down to just above 0° at night, but we had 2 duvets, and were toasty warm under them – borderline hot some of the nights. I was glad we only flew with carry-on luggage though, because compared to our camper in Canada, it felt a bit tight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have any more stuff!

On another note, this was the lightest I’ve ever packed for a trip, and it was a big stretch for me! I wore the same boots the entire time, other than my runners for hiking. I didn’t bring heels. (Who am I?) I didn’t bring my blow dryer or straightener, either, and just made due with the hair situation. I knew we wouldn’t have power for them anyways. (Thankfully, I was able to shower at my friend’s in Dunedin, half way through the trip, and use her hair appliances to freshen up. Alice, you’re a life-saver!) Over all, I really embraced the campervan lifestyle. It was fine for 5 days, but by day 6, I was quite happy in our hotel room! I am still a bit “precious” as they say here, after all.

I have also realized that we’ve only been here just over half a year, and our trip was greatly enriched by the many connections we already had, because of our jobs in the industry, and friends we have made. We visited friends in Dunedin and Queenstown, and I knew people in Christchurch, and Gibbston Valley through simply meeting them at my job and spending some time getting to know them; they then returned the hospitality to us. We tried wines of people I’ve met at my job. We had a free place to stay in Wanaka, through another friend we’ve made. Most of the places we visited gave us extra special treatment when they found out we were industry people. I’m so thankful for all of these connections, and they make us feel so much more welcome in NZ.

Our trip was amazing.

Queenstown area
Queenstown
Roy’s Peak Summit
Arrowtown in Autumn

I’m so happy to have finally seen the South Island, and it is every bit as beautiful as people say. (Although, I do have to give bigger points to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.) 6 days went by so quickly, and we did a lot, but we still had moments of relaxation, and thoroughly enjoyed our first actual holiday in NZ.

Relaxing with my babe, stunning views and some Pinot at Maude

Hmm… where to next?

#nzv19

New Zealand Vintage 2019… is done.

The end of vintage brings mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s sad to say goodbye to the time of year when everything the industry people have been working towards for the rest of the year is finally realized. It’s also time for all the vintage staff to be on their way back to their home countries, or on to the Northern Hemisphere for the next vintage. Saying goodbye to a team of people who have spent more time with each other than anyone else for the last 6 to 8 weeks can be difficult, especially if it was a great team that got along well and bonded over late nights and long days.

On the other hand, for all the Cellar Hands out there, vintage is exhausting, stressful, and can be all consuming, so it’s a relief to get back to a normal schedule, start sleeping again, and get the occasional day off. The “wine widows” are happy to have their partners back too.

As promised, I’ll outline briefly what our experiences of our first vintage were, and better explain some of the photos you saw on our social media profiles in the last 2 months.


Vintage for my winery started on the 26th of February. I’ll remind you here that I work in the Cellar Door, not the winery, (which my boss had to remind me of a couple times – sorry Mitch) so any time I got to spend in the winery was really special to me. I didn’t personally have the long days, no time off, and night shifts that all the Cellar Hands did (and wow, do I admire them for their work). I certainly did clock some hours out there when the Cellar Door was slow, on my days off, and after work, to hang out with the crew and get my hands on everything I was allowed to touch.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual First Crush Ceremony, which was an unexpected honour for me. The grapes were loaded into the hopper, and before it was turned on, we had a speech with some high-ups in the company, and some of our Blanc de Noir (Champagne-style wine). Traditionally, everyone has a sip or two, and then throws the remainder of their wine into the hopper over the grapes. It’s a way of “blessing,” if you will, the next harvest with some wine from previous harvests. Ceremonies like this are practiced all over the world, and have been for years. Traditionally, the ceremony shows thanksgiving for the vineyards, the grapes, the workers, and begins the new vintage with a united team, hopeful for the vintage ahead.

My face when one of the Cellar Hands told me not to throw the entire wine glass in! 😂 Obviously.

I stuck around to watch the first crush, and tried some of the juice straight out of the press. It was a great day! I had no idea then just how many things I was actually going to experience this vintage.

The team began by bringing in Chardonnay for our bubbles, as well as some aromatic whites, like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, and then moved onto Chardonnay. Whites lasted for weeks, and I made sure to try each type of grape as they came in, and each grape juice as it was pressed out of the tanks.

During this time, I learned how the hopper, auger, crusher and presses work in a lot more detail, how to rack a tank, how the barrels are filled, and got to try my hand at some Battonage (yeast lees stirring). I also got to learn about the process of several loads of grapes arriving in both trucks and in bins, and how the winery coordinates with the vineyards, pickers and truck drivers to manage it all.

Hand harvested Sauvignon Blanc being loaded up into the press

Meanwhile, Greg was doing his own vintage at his workplace. After seeing our first crush ceremony, Greg suggested his team do one as well; they took his suggestion and involved everyone there, including the Cellar Door team, to launch the vintage with Champagne. Greg’s First Crush Ceremony was on the 14th of March, when they brought in some Merlot for Rose. For his very first crush, he mostly cleaned equipment and learned how to do a thorough job of that. He helped run pumps, move hoses, de-stem and get the juice off of the skins.

Two weeks later, Greg’s winery brought in some whites. Greg had lots of different roles; sometimes he drove the tractor from the vineyard into the winery with loads of grapes, other times he helped operate the press. As his place is an Estate winery, everything is grown on site. With their small team, they often enlisted the help of picking gangs to come harvest the grapes on the days they were ready. Greg began doing more involved jobs, like loading the press, and continuing with that all important cleaning and sanitizing. He enjoyed harvesting the Chardonnay the most, but loved the taste of the Gewertztraminer grapes the best.

I got to experience my first harvest, and Greg’s second, when Greg and I helped our friends at Saorsa wines with their Viognier. I was so slow at first, but eventually got the hang of it!

As exciting as the whites were, I was thrilled when the reds began coming in. Merlot for Rose was the first red that came into our winery on the 24th of March, and the reds continued until the end of April.

Greg’s Winery brought in their first official red, Pinotage, on the 25th of March. He enjoyed harvesting the reds more than the whites, because although the reds require a lot more work in the winery over the next several months, the harvest day process is simpler. With the reds, Greg learned to do everything from pour overs, punch downs and rummages (to continually mix the juice and skins all together while they’re fermenting) to taking and recording data of temperature and Brix (sugar) levels in the active ferments every day.

His small team lead to some extra long days, as they had to finish processing the grapes that came in before they could go home. That same small team had some benefits for me though, as I was welcomed to come participate in some of the cellar work. I loved doing punch-downs, and helping with anything they’d set me up working on.

Couples who make wine together… 🍷

Meanwhile, at my own workplace, I was still taking every chance to be out in the winery. I witnessed a few dig outs (emptying skins from the tanks after fermentation is done) and got to try everything from taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins at the top of the tanks, to testing Brix (sugar) levels in wine, rummages (blowing compressed air into the tanks to mix up the skins through the juice and regulate the temperature of the ferment), and even running the hopper (with much needed and excessive supervision)!

Rummaging the Cuves
Testing the Brix
Taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins
Learning to run the hopper with a load of red grapes

Greg and I helped our friends at Element Wines harvest their Merlot, and got another little harvest under our belts.

Greg did his first dig out on his birthday!

A big highlight for me was when Alex of Saorsa allowed me to help him foot stomp his Syrah! This had been a dream of mine for years, and it was so amazing to actually get to do it.

Greg has also had the incredible and special opportunity to make his own wines. He’s got the mentorship of his Assistant Winemaker every step of the way, to help him create the style of wine he wants, and the benefit of the winery’s fruit and equipment. He is making a “field blend,” which is a mix of any and all grape types that come from the same block; his has 8 varietals in it, and will be a red wine. He’s also making a Chardonnay, and a Rose. He is learning to be a Winemaker on his own wines, which is an amazing way to learn. We’re so excited to try the finished products.

Greg’s Chardonnay
Greg tasting his field blend in the early stages
Greg’s field blend during the first week of fermenting

All of the grapes have been brought in now, but there is still much to do to tend to the wines, as they will be in the winery for months to years before they’re ready to be bottled. Greg continues to work on those tasks, and is doing some big jobs independently now. He continues to learn new things every day, and will soon be getting into pruning the vines with his Assistant Winemaker.

I’m spending more time back in the Cellar Door, and less in the winery now, but I’m reminded that it’s where I wanted to be, and still want to be – talking to people about wine, touring them around, and educating them about this passion of mine. There’s so much Greg and I have learned, and even more we want to learn. At the end of this first vintage we’ve gotten to be part of, the whole process of growing grapes and making wine is even more alive and exciting for us than ever before.

A Day in the Life; What Working in the Wine Industry Actually Looks Like for Me

If you’ve read my previous post about what Greg does, you have seen how a winery operates from the vineyard and winery perspective. My job is quite different than Greg’s.

I work at Church Road Winery as a Visitor Experience and Cellar Door Host. What that means is that I am responsible for many aspects of what makes a visit to our winery a great experience for the customers. I’ve included some examples below:

⁃ doing tastings at the bar for walk in customers or pre-booked groups

– tour operator group tastings at the bar, or seated at tables for small or large groups

⁃ running the till for people to pay for their meals, tastings, wine, or merchandise

⁃ answering the phone

⁃ educating customers about the wine and helping them in the shop

⁃ serving wine and drinks to tables at the restaurant or those enjoying the lawn area. We have a restaurant in the Cellar Door, and although we don’t run the food part, all of the drink orders for all beverages (even Soda, etc.) come through us. We are also responsible to clear, wash and polish all of the glasswear.

⁃ VIP drink service and general assistance at concerts

⁃ tours of the winery and through the museum, which include educating the guests on the history of the company, the wine making process, and our specific procedures

(I don’t usually wear heels to work! This photo was during a private tour for Greg.)

⁃ stocking the shelves in the shop with wine and merchandise

⁃ stocking the bar with wine, drinks, and clean glasswear

⁃ working in the new Container Bar. We just opened our new bar down in our park area. It used to be a shipping container and is now a really nice outdoor bar where we can serve drinks to outdoor customers wanting wine and snacks on the beanbag chairs or blankets in the park. We can also use it for concert service and as an additional tasting area on really busy days.

⁃ So much more!

Church Road is only closed 4 days of the year, and we are the most visited winery in Hawke’s Bay. The team won “Cellar Door of the Year” last year, meaning they were named the best Cellar Door experience in the whole region; this shows and means that the Church Road team takes the visitors’ experience very seriously and places it in high regard. There are about 16 of us that do what I do. We have a wide range of ages represented on the team as well, which is so nice!

We are very busy most of the time! We are open from 10:30am to 4:30pm for tastings, but we have a beautiful venue that is often rented out for weddings and other functions after hours. We are also hosting several Sunday Jazz festivals in our park, as well as 5 big name concerts this summer, like UB40, Fatboy Slim, Toto, Sticky Fingers and Angus & Julia Stone. This all means that my hours can jump around quite a bit, and my weekly schedule is never the same.

We also have a gorgeous setting!

The stage for our concerts is in the beginning stages of set up on the left side of the photo.
The projection and chairs were set up here for a staff meeting; it’s a beautiful place to have a meeting.
The tasting area is pictured on the left, with the indoor part of the restaurant on the right.

One of my favourite parts of my job is leading the tours. We offer 2 tours per day; the Behind the Scenes Tour is at 11:00am and requires booking ahead. This one features an hour and a half experience of a full winery tour, on which the guests get to taste wine right out of our Oak Cuves and Stainless tanks, visit our wine museum, (which is the only one in New Zealand), and have a seated tasting that is paired with food. The second is at 2:00pm and is a Winery and Museum tour, that features a more basic walk through the winery and museum, and a tasting at a private bar afterwards. I have recently begun doing these tours on my own, and have done a good number now, with various sizes of groups up to 15 people. As a teacher, getting to teach people who actually want to be there and who have lots of questions, is so refreshing. Teaching the visitors, and talking about wine with them is really enjoyable, and there’s no homework to mark afterwards either.

In addition, when cruise ships are in, sometimes extra tours will be booked that start at 9:30am or 10:00am, and we will open early for those groups. We’re expecting 72 cruise ships in Napier this summer, and several of them will bring in large groups to Church Road. I just co-lead my first 40 person tour last week; the group was engaged and asked a lot of questions, and it was so much fun to do the tour with my colleague.

It is typical for me to start at either 10:00am or 11:00am, and on my schedule it says I work until “F,” which means when we’re finished! Sometimes, if it’s been a slow or rainy day, and we can get all of our glassware washed, restocking the wine done and all the other cleaning and organizing finished sooner, we will be done work by 4:30pm or 5:00pm. Other days, when the weather is nice, and people are hanging around finishing wine outside, or if we’ve been busy and have lots of glasses piled up, we don’t finish until 5:30pm or 6:00pm. There have been a few days when I’ve been helping unload palates of wine into the store room, after our stock has been replenished, or cleaning up until after 6:00pm.

We don’t get scheduled lunch breaks, because we are usually the busiest over lunch. We take turns popping into the back for 15 minutes or so to eat, and then we come back out so the next person can go. We have the freedom to use the washroom or go grab a snack or drink when we have a moment. Sometimes one of my colleagues will make tea in the afternoon, or someone will bring baking, and we’ll stand at one of the bars and have a cup (if we’re not slammed)! The plus side to a schedule like that is that I’m paid for the whole time, even while I’m eating lunch, or while we’re having tea, so more work means more money.

I also love my colleagues, and spending time with them at work is fun! Lots of times when I go to work, it feels like I’m on my way to go spend the day with friends. We truly have an amazing team of people (and if you can’t tell by these photos, we have a lot of fun)!

Another part of the job that I love is doing tastings. I get to meet so many amazing people from all over the world when I’m behind the bar. Most of the people that come to the counter are traveling, and as they are generally on holiday, and they’re out wine tasting, they’re usually in a great mood (99% of the time). I enjoy asking them questions about where they’re from, hearing their stories, and getting to talk about wine with them.

Every day of work is so different, and there’s so many things I might do. It really depends on the time of year, the weather, if there’s a cruise ship in, if the tours are booked or not, if the restaurant is fully booked and lots of drink orders are coming through, if there’s a function or concert that day, etc.

Another great perk of my job is that we get to have a bit of wine at the end of each work day! I love this part for a few reasons. Drinking great wine is obviously a huge plus. Apart from the obvious, getting to taste the wine helps us keep our palates tuned into the wines we’re talking about to people every day. We have 25 wines at Church Road, so it’s helpful to keep trying different wines again, to keep them fresh in our minds. Even more enjoyable to me though, are the friendships being built during this time. I love that we all sit down for half an hour or so after work and unwind together, and talk about our personal lives as friends. It really encourages a positive work environment and building relationships with our colleagues. Sometimes the Winemaker will join us as well, or our bosses will, and we get to see them in a different light. It’s a really special time of day for me, and I make sure not to rush off unless I absolutely have to be somewhere.

Another question Greg and I are often asked is how much we actually drink the wine from our places of work.

I personally really love Church Road wine; several of them have won many awards and they’re of high quality, so it’s not at all difficult to want to drink them! Our Winemaker was named the best in the country in 2013 and 2016, and he definitely knows what he’s doing. Church Road is a highly recognized and reputable brand throughout New Zealand. It’s too bad we can’t ship to Canada, or I’d be sending it back in hordes already! There are extra perks sometimes too… for example, our Chief Winemaker, Chris Scott, had an interview with a wine writer a few weeks ago, and he opened a bunch of really high quality, aged wine. Not only did us Church Road staff get to try it after work, but as they would just go to waste otherwise, we got to take the bottles home the next night. Greg and I had the remainders of a 2006 Grand Reserve Chardonnay and a 2002 Tom Merlot Cabernet with our dinner.

Surprisingly, I even enjoy some of the tasks I thought I wouldn’t, like polishing glassware. The ladies told me I would find it a nice, zen-like break from doing tastings on busy days, and it really actually is! It’s a great place to either rest our voices, or have a chat while polishing together (like our version of the water cooler)!

Most surprising to me, is that I also love taking the cardboard out. It is so strange to me that I love that job, but whenever there’s cardboard, I’m all, “I’ll take it!” That sounds ridiculous, but allow me to explain. I have moments every time I go do it, when I put that “high-vis” jacket on and get to stroll through the working winery to the cardboard bin. (Side note, I ran into UB40 while taking the cardboard out last week, so that was pretty amazing too.) Besides the off chance celebrity run in, I think I love it because it’s a particular moment in the day when I take a walk outside, and stop to realize that I actually work in a winery. Me. I do! I’ve dreamt of it for years, and now I do. Taking the cardboard out sounds like such a menial task to enjoy, but it reminds me of what I’m actually doing with my life right now. I can hardly wait to take the cardboard out during vintage when I’ll get to see all the grapes coming in and being processed!

Thanks for reading, blog family; that’s such a small glimpse into what I do, but it gives you the general idea for now. I’ll be sure to post updates on my job as it changes, and once vintage starts.

…And if you ever get a chance, have a glass of Church Road wine, and think of me. 🍷❤️

A Weekend in Wellington

We’ve had a very busy January at work (and by “we” I mean “me,” as Greg’s been enjoying all of the public holidays). I’m used to having two weeks off over Christmas and New Years, and then spending the next few weeks of work struggling to get out of bed and motivate myself to get back into the routine, after having to dig my car of out of the snow in the dark, minus 40 weather. This year, of course, with an industry and country change, brought a big life change, and a significant change to my January! I’ve not had more than two days off in a row in a long while, (maybe at all since I started my job), but with that, comes no dread of returning to work, and no broken routine. It’s a good thing I love what I’m doing! January is one of the busiest months in the Cellar Door, and we’ve been working hard, for long hours, in the heat! We’ve had many days in a row of higher than 30 degree weather, and heaps of sunshine. I’ve been spending my mornings going for jogs along the ocean instead of digging my car out of the snow, and getting sun burnt instead of frost bitten!

With all of that work, I’ve been very tired, but when Greg and I realized I had a weekend off, we decided we needed to take advantage of it and go see some more of this beautiful country we’re calling “home.” As we did a “rustic” trip last time (slept in the car, next to a stream on a mountain and hiked 20kms), we decided to do a city trip this time. We chose Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, a four hour drive for us; on route, there is the Wairarapa wine region, with Martinborough in it, famous for its Pinot Noir, something Hawke’s Bay is too warm to do much of.

We left early Saturday morning and headed through many cute little towns on the way to Martinborough. We wanted to fit in a few wineries before our 1:00pm appointment at Ata Rangi.

We visited Poppies, Vynfields, and Schubert during the lunch hour. They were all very small production, beautiful places, and featured the Pinot Noir we were after.

We ran into a family at Poppies that lives in Wellington, that I had done a tasting with at Church Road recently; we all recognized each other, and stopped to chat! They told Greg how great of a time they had with me, and that they could tell how passionate I am about wine and the process of making it. That’s definitely true, and I’m glad it comes through to people who visit me in the Cellar Door!

We had a beautiful, seated tasting, with only 10 people at Ata Rangi, and got to hear a bit of their history, as well as the history of Martinborough.

After Martinborough, we headed into Welly! The first stop was the mall, where I bought some necessities that are harder to find in Hawke’s Bay, and looked for some clothes. Greg and I are noticing that the styles here are very different than in Europe or North America. I didn’t find much, but got a few things. We checked into our Airbnb in Island Bay, and then headed into downtown.

We had a walk around the waterfront, checked out Cuba Street and the candy store, Nicnacs, before having a pint at Hashigo Zake, a craft beer bar.

We had dinner at Chow, an Asian inspired place, that surprisingly was able to accommodate me very well. We loved their food, and atmosphere.

We finished the evening at Noble Rot, a famous wine bar in Wellington, where we got a Napa Chardonnay, just to remember what they taste like, and did a blind flight of three reds from around the world. We did decently well on our guesses, and enjoyed having some red wine from the old world again.

Sunday morning, we slept in a tiny bit, but had too much on the agenda to laze around! We started with a trip to the top of Mount Victoria for 360 degree views of the city. It was beautiful up there, and definitely worth a see!

We checked out the Te Papa Museum, where we learned about some of New Zealand’s history in the First World War, and saw their amazing, more than double life size models of soldiers; they have been crafted in incredible detail!

Next, we headed to the waterfront to walk more of it, and grabbed a coffee. This was a relaxing part of the day, and was a peaceful stroll.

The wind was intense! I had been warned of the Wellington wind, but didn’t quite comprehend how fast it actually is! I literally had to hold my sunglasses on my head because they were blowing off. The wind actually pushed us along if it was behind, and we had to lean into it if it was in front. I had to tuck my shirt into the front of my pants to prevent it from whipping up!

We eventually found the cute huts at Oriental Bay, and then headed to do some breweries for Greg!

Wellington has a really big craft beer scene. We went to Husk first, that features Choice Bros brewing, and great food, and then to Whistling Sisters. Greg found most of the beer very good; his favourites still lie in other parts of the world, but he really liked lots of the Welly ones.

We did some wine shopping at Moore Wilson’s and Glengarry, and were excited to find some wine from other parts of the world. We’ve got a craving for a good Napa or Sonoma red, but we haven’t found that yet. (Do we want it just because we can’t find it?)

The last stop was at Starbucks, for the New Zealand souvenir mug, and an Americano. To be honest, I’m starting to get used to New Zealand’s amazing coffee, and how rich and velvety it is, with a nice foam to it, that I found the Americano a bit lacking; however, it was a weird sized cup and had too much water for the amount of espresso, and it also didn’t have the same flavour as in Canada. I don’t blame anyone, but they’re competing with so many other amazing coffee shops; if Starbucks wants to become more popular here, they need to up their game. (Disclaimer: I will always love Starbucks.) We can’t use our app or gold cards here, and they don’t have the oatmeal, but I did get my Americano free with my mug. The mug was $30 here (yikes) but Switzerland still takes the prize for “most expensive we’ve seen” at somewhere around $32 – $34 Canadian. The Starbucks people probably think I died, seeing as how my gold card, that used to get several purchases a week, went from full on, to absolutely nothing the day I left Canada. If anyone from Starbucks is reading this, I am alive, and I still love you.

We enjoyed the ride home, as it is a really beautiful drive through mountains, with lush greenery, and several cute towns, one of which won New Zealand’s most scenic town recently.

I said to Greg before the trip that I wanted to have a relaxing weekend in Wellington, as I have been so tired from work and not sleeping well due to our almost 30 degree nights (poor me, right?). If you know me though, I always try and fit as much in as possible on a trip, because I like to take advantage of being in the place. I have to go back more than once to be able to fully relax in any place! This weekend, no matter how much I thought we’d relax, was not relaxing, but it was full of sight seeing, and we felt like we were on holiday! I said to Greg at one point, “doesn’t it feel like we just flew here and we have to fly back to Canada soon? But we don’t. We will just drive back home and go to work tomorrow.”

I’ve also noticed there’s nothing that makes me feel more at home in Napier than leaving it, and then getting that comfortable feeling of coming home when we return to Hawke’s Bay. We’ve definitely ended up living in the right place for us, and it’s feeling more like home every day.

Our weekend in Wellington was short and sweet, and we’re happy to have seen the city; we’re also happy to be home… until the next time!

A Day in the Life; What Working in the Wine Industry Actually Looks Like for Greg

You all know we’re “working in the wine industry,” but we’ve been getting lots of questions about what we actually DO all day, our hours, colleagues, wineries, etc., so if you’re interested in the specifics, read on, and I’ll walk you through what Greg might do during a typical day or week. (I’ll post a separate blog for my typical week as they’re quite different!)

Greg works at Linden Estate Winery as a Vineyard Hand and Cellar Hand. For right now, he’s working Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 4:30. (This will change during harvest time.) The guys take coffee breaks, which they call “smoko,” in the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon. Linden provides basic coffee and tea for them, but Greg brings his own lunch.

He works with a small team at Linden, which he loves, because he gets to actually do a little bit of everything. Trevor is the Head Winemaker, and Alex is the Assistant Winemaker. Greg works closely with Alex most of the time, but spends a great deal of time with Trevor as well. There’s another man who drives the tractor and does most of the spraying and trimming of the vines.

Linden has a small Cellar Door, with only one full time Cellar Door host, and another office manager that helps as well. Greg doesn’t see them too often as he’s not in the Cellar Door.

As Greg works with the vines, his daily tasks are constantly changing with the stage of growth of the vines and grapes; the weather has an impact too. His vineyard has recently added some new blocks of vines, so their young vines need appropriate trimming to keep them growing upwards instead of outwards; they are too young for spray, so they need to be weeded manually. The guys go by hand and break off all the extra shoots that are not the main shoot of the vine.

The grass needs mowing in between the rows every so often in all of the blocks. This is part of Greg’s job.

As the more mature vines are growing, they grow like a bush and the branches spread out, but they need to grow straight up. There are wires in the vineyard that keep all of the rows contained. The branches that grow out need to be pushed back into the wires. Greg helps when the vines get taller and the wires need to be pulled up; this process is called “tucking,” and “lifting wires.”

(Pictured above is a comparison of vines that need to be tucked, versus cleanly tucked vines. The wires I mention are shown more clearly in the second photo.)

A few times per season the vines also require what’s called “bud rubbing.” Vines grow out of everywhere, even on the stumpy looking part of the vine at the bottom. If they were left there, they would grow up and cover the fruit from the sun, which wouldn’t allow the grapes to ripen properly. Vintners also just don’t want too many shoots growing because the more fruit a vine produces, the lesser the quality of the fruit. Wine will have more concentrated flavours and complexity if the vines only produce a small amount of fruit that they can invest all of their energy into. In order to prevent these extra shoots from growing, Greg will go from vine to vine and snap off any little shoots that are appearing, and rub off any buds that are beginning to show.

When he helps in the winery, he is working with the wine that was harvested within the last few years and is currently aging. As wine is aging in oak barrels, a small portion of it is constantly evaporating. (We call this the “angel’s share.”) At least once per month, if not more, the barrels need to be topped up with more wine until they’re literally overflowing, to ensure no oxygen is in the barrel. Oak allows a small amount in, but this is controlled and good to help the wine soften and be more palatable. Too much oxygen will ruin the wine and make it taste unpleasant. Greg helps refill the barrels with wine from a different tank. He has to pay close attention to which wines go in each barrel to keep them consistent with the grapes and years that the Winemaker wants.

Greg also cleans and sterilizes hoses, pumps and tanks before filling or using them. Once the Winemaker decides on the percentage of the blends for certain wines, Greg helps him transfer those wines together. He uses a barrel washer machine to clean out barrels once they’re empty. He mixes up a special compound that is applied inside the barrels to keep them sanitary while they’re in storage.

Greg also does a process called “batonnage.” When wines are aging in the barrel, the dormant yeast and other solids sink to the bottom. Sometimes, with certain wines, these are removed throughout the aging process. Other times, they are left during the aging process, and stirred occasionally through the wine, because they add complexity of flavour and contribute to a creamy mouthfeel. Batonnage is when Greg does the stirring.

Linden has additional clients that bring their grapes into the winery for Trevor, the Winemaker, to make into wine for them. Greg helps Trevor with whatever he needs for this as well.

Once the harvest begins, in late February, Greg will be working many more hours than he is now, and will be required to help with anything necessary. Getting grapes off the vine and into the winery has to happen in a very small window of time. The grapes need to be processed in the winery as soon as they’re off the vine, whether it is day or night. Harvest goes throughout March and into April. That will be a very busy, and important time of year for anyone in the industry.

We’ve also been asked if we get discounts on wine. You bet! It’s awesome. As we get such great prices, and the wines are good, lots of the wine we buy is from Linden (and lots from Church Road too). Greg comes home with the occasional, “here, drink this with your wife and tell us what you think,” wine, which is homework we’re definitely not complaining about. (I’ve been known to bring home a few left over bottles here and there as well.)

There are, of course, many other day to day tasks Greg does that can’t all be mentioned here, but hopefully you have a greater understanding of what his roles are, and can see why he appreciates the small team he works with and the wide variety of experience he’s gaining! He is really happy at Linden so far, and I’ll keep you updated on the craziness of our life, and his new tasks once harvest, or “vintage,” starts.

New Zeal in New Zealand; The Start of our Life in Hawke’s Bay

November 2018 will forever live in our memories as one of the most unique months of our lives; we will also remember being completely overwhelmed by God’s goodness and hand on our lives! I can’t believe we’ve only been in NZ for three weeks today. We have been absolutely amazed in the many, many ways we have seen God bless us and take care of us. It has been surreal to experience so many “impossible” blessings in such a short time frame. So much has happened, but I’ll just give an overview of the big topics for now, like jobs, cars, home, church and friends.

We arrived on Tuesday, the 13th of November (that’s how they date things here), picked up our rental car, and headed to our Airbnb. It was a really cute place, and we had the space to ourselves while the host couple was at work all day. I immediately got on the computer and started applying for jobs for both of us. Within an hour, Greg got a call from Linden Estate Winery to come for an interview the next morning!

Tuesday afternoon, we test drove two cars, and got groceries. I got in touch with a couple that a friend at home had put me in contact with via email, and they invited us for dinner the very next night! We spent Tuesday evening with our Airbnb hosts, sharing a bottle of wine and getting to know them.

On Wednesday morning, Greg went for his interview, and was hired on the spot! His job consists of helping around the vineyard and in the winery throughout the vintage season and the rest of the year. It is a small, family owned, estate winery, and he is part of a small group of core staff. He gets to do a little bit of everything and be really involved in several aspects of the wine making process; his job also requires him to use many different skills from the various trades he’s been working in over the last decade. That was exactly what he was looking for in a job, and he was hired within only 25 hours of us arriving in the Bay. Praise the Lord!

Everyone we’ve told has been shocked at how quickly he got a job, with no past winery experience. This kind of thing “just doesn’t happen,” and we feel it could only have been arranged by God. Linden also has a big shop that Greg has access to, as well as tools; they’re even getting him to brew a beer for harvest time, so he gets to do that too!

Wednesday afternoon, our second day here, we purchased the first car we had looked at the day before, for only $500, as it wasn’t running very well. Greg got to work on finding the problem. He decided we needed to search for another car for me, as this one, “the Polo,” was going to perhaps be a little unreliable.

I had heard of a FB group while we were in Sydney, from an American who had recently moved there, for the purpose of Americans connecting in Sydney. I wondered if there was one like that for Canadians in NZ, and sure enough, there is. I received permission to join it, and put a request out for someone to suggest areas that are good to live in, and areas to avoid. We had been told once we arrived how difficult it is to find rentals here, and we wanted to start looking right away. On their main rental site, there were only seven in our price range, and many were in undesirable neighbourhoods, or far from Greg’s winery. It’s typical here for a place to have upwards of sixty applicants too; we had no idea it would be so hard to find a place!

A Canadian girl got back to me right away on FB, suggesting we try to live in her area. She had been there for years, and loved it. She said it was beautiful and safe. Seeing as she was young and married, I messaged her to invite her for a drink. She said she would love to meet up, but her and her husband were moving away in less than three weeks. I said, “well we should just live in your place then!” She said she would recommend us to her landlord, and she did!

Wednesday evening, we went to meet R & A, the new couple whom we’d been in contact with. They were so friendly and had us in for dinner with their daughters. We spent the evening getting to know them and really enjoyed their company. They suggested I print my CV’s at their house (something I had worried about in Canada – “where will I print my CV’s?”) and they said we could borrow their car if we ever needed, and invited us to join them at their lakehouse in the summer. They read us a story about Kiwi Christmas and taught us about Hawke’s Bay. We feel blessed to have met them so quickly after arriving.

Thursday consisted of Greg working on the Polo, and me applying for some more jobs. I had also been in touch with a winemaker via Instagram while we were still in Canada, and he had been so helpful in tips for living here, answering my questions, and trying to help me find a job. He invited us to come try their wine and sit down with him and his partner, so we went to their house on Thursday, for what was supposed to be a glass of wine, and turned into five hours of visiting with him, his partner and their daughter over charcuterie until it was dark out! We feel blessed to have met them too!

The Canadian’s landlord had only just posted the listing for her “flat” the day that I was speaking to her, and she had already had over a hundred people contact her about it, over sixty applications, and a day “chocka full” of viewings set up for Sunday. Once her current tenant recommended us fellow Canadians to her, and we got in touch, the landlord said that she loves Canadians, has family in SK, and is destined to rent to Canadians. Amazingly, she offered to hold the place for us. We set up a time to see it Saturday.

On Friday, our rental car was due back, and the Polo still wasn’t running, so we found what appeared to be a great car, for a little more money than we’d hoped to spend, at a dealership. We test drove it that morning, and decided to purchase it. We got it insured and left it near the rental agency to pick up when we returned the rental later on.

Greg’s new boss’s partner showed us two places she had for us to potentially live. She has an empty house where her art studio is, that she would allow us to live in once our time at the Airbnb was up, as a transitional spot (where we are currently). She also has another property becoming available, that she wasn’t intending to rent out again, but that she said we could have if we wanted. Both of these are in a very desirable area of Hawke’s Bay. Here we were, on our first week in town, where it’s nearly impossible to find a rental, with two amazing choices in the most desirable neighbourhoods, both being held specifically for us. Amazing.

Greg took me to Linden so I could see where he’ll work, and I got a bit of a tour, and even got to meet most of his co-workers. It was a Friday at quitting time when we happened to be there, so we got to sit with them for a bit and have a visit.

After seeing Linden, we went and picked up the new car, the Mitsubishi, and took the rental back. We spent the evening with our Airbnb hosts again, after Greg worked until dark on the Polo.

Saturday, we drove to see the Canadian’s rental unit, and the car began breaking down on the way! We got there though, and decided to live there. It has the airport and a highway nearby, but there are no windows on that side of the house, so we can’t see it, and hardly hear it from inside. It’s in a great area, and everything is included – even towels and linens! It has wifi and tv, a dishwasher, and all the dishes. It used to run as a bed and breakfast, so we can literally move in with our bags.

This is another thing that has been shocking to many Kiwi’s here, as apparently that’s not how they usually do it. It’s quite uncommon to find a furnished place at all, let alone with dishes and linens. Here is another “impossibility” made possible. Oh, and we can walk to the ocean in five minutes! We can move in on the 9th of December, and I can’t wait for those after work walks to the ocean!

The Mitsubishi broke down completely after we left there, so we had to call the dealer back. Thankfully, he said to drop it at his shop and he would have it looked at the next week. We got yet another rental car, and then took me to apply for more jobs. Greg finally got the Polo running that evening! We were so thrilled about that!

Sunday morning was our first time to attend C3 Hawke’s Bay, so we were excited to go check out what we hoped would be our new church. We were greeted by some very friendly people, and found a small group to join that meets “fortnightly” on Wednesday’s. We made plans to go to the next one. The service was unique in the way that they had three of their core members tell their stories, so we got to know some of the people at the church really well just by attending on that particular day. The church also happened to be having a quarterly lunch afterwards that we were able to stay for, and use to spend more time meeting and connecting with people. It was a great week to be there.

Greg started his new job on Monday, six days after we arrived, and he got to do so many amazing things and learn so much. He came home with homework – a couple of bottles of wine we were supposed to drink so we could start getting familiar with it.

I also got a call for an interview at the job I really wanted! My new winemaker friend had recommended the company to me, and I had also seen it posted online the first day we were here, and I said out loud, “that’s my perfect job.” It was exactly what I said I wanted to do here, but didn’t think I’d be able to find or get. I was so excited, and also very nervous! I spent Tuesday preparing for it and learning as much as I could. Wednesday morning I went in for my interview, and it seemed to go well, however I found out they were interviewing more than four people for only two positions!

We had to return the rental car on Wednesday, and the Mitsubishi was supposedly fixed, so we picked it up… and made it half a block away before it broke down again. We took it right back and Greg spent twenty minutes arguing with the dealer on the phone who no longer wanted to refund us, and said he had to think about it overnight! I was so stressed. Thankfully, we had plans with R & A and their girls again that evening, so I was distracted! They also bought our drinks, invited us for Christmas, and lent us their car! I can’t believe the kindness they have shown us already. It brings tears to my eyes.

Wednesday and Thursday that week were big days of me practicing patience with the car and the job, and trusting that God would help us with the car dealer, and that if it were the job for me, God would set it up; if it wasn’t, He would bring something else my way at the right time.

Thursday, after taking a verbal beating on the phone by the dealer, Greg got our money back! We were so relieved, and back on the hunt for another car. Thursday evening, I heard from the job that they wouldn’t be deciding until the following week now, due to contacting references! It was hard to hear that I’d have to wait so long, but I just kept thinking that God would put me where I was supposed to be.

Friday, I got a call in the afternoon that they were offering me the job! I was so thrilled and excited! Again, I felt a miracle had happened. I have no winery experience, and they interviewed three or four others, and still chose me to do tours and tastings at the most visited, and one of the oldest, biggest name wineries in the Bay. I was, and am, so grateful to God for both of our jobs!

Saturday was spent moving out of our Airbnb in Hastings, into the transitional place belonging to Greg’s boss’s partner. It’s in Ahuriri, in Napier, very close to where we’ll live. On the way, we happened to notice a car on the side of the road for sale that hadn’t been there before. We joked that we should maybe buy that one, and then kept going.

Once we moved our stuff over to the new place, we went looking for a car again! Greg had found a bunch online and had lined up four test drives, but none of them seemed to be great. We had just started saying that maybe we needed to increase our budget when we pulled onto that main road near our Airbnb and saw that car on the side of the road again. We pulled over and Greg called the owner, who came and let us test drive it. She had just parked it there at lunchtime, literally moments before we had driven by. It felt right and seemed in good condition. The lady dropped her price when we got back, because she is a single Mom and didn’t want to deal with having to continue to show it to people. We got it for a steal!

On Saturday night, we met the woman that lives in the house behind the one we’re in, and shares our yard. She is from Italy! We connected right away and she sat and visited with us for a while, and invited us to her dinner party the following night.

On Sunday morning, we went to church again and met some more new people, and reconnected with some from the previous week. We spent the afternoon with R and A again after returning their car. They showed us how to turn my new ride into a camper van so we can sight see the NZ way on our days off!

That evening, we had dinner with L, our Italian neighbour! She cooked us Italian food and introduced us to some of her friends. It was a great day full of socializing, and we felt so blessed to have already met so many great people. I thought it was so interesting that we ended up making an Italian friend, who has already cooked Italian food for us, and that we can speak the small amount of Italian we learned with! The things we were looking forward to in Italy, we got to do here already!

I started my job on Wednesday the next week, and did four days in a row. It was a lot of information to take in, but I am absolutely loving it, and having so much fun. The staff are all so friendly, and as the third winery to be established in NZ, it has amazing history. The winemaker is friendly, great at his job, and makes quality wine that I’m proud to represent and pour for people. We even got invited to the Christmas party and had a great night socializing with my new colleagues and their partners. In the tasting room (Cellar Door as it’s called here) I’ve already met people from all around the world and gotten to have great conversations with so many of them in my first week!

We attended our first C3 Church Connect Group last week as well, and couldn’t believe how welcoming the group was. We felt right at home and completely comfortable with them, like we had known them for years.

We’ve taken every chance we can to get outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery around us. We’re looking forward to when the rainy spring ends and we can get outside even more.

We continue to learn so much as we slowly integrate into the wine industry, and look forward to the months ahead. We have been so blessed to have everything we’ve needed come together in such a short time. It’s been only three weeks today since we arrived, and we’re both working in not only wine industry jobs, but the exact types of jobs we wanted. We have been blessed to meet so many amazing people already and have been out with new friends more nights than we’ve been in! We have vehicles now, and a place lined up, and a great church and small group. It really has been overwhelming to see God provide for our needs in ways I couldn’t have even dreamed of.

Despite everything that’s gone right, it’s not been easy, but it’s been humbling, exciting, and so encouraging for us to have experienced this new beginning. I am curiously awaiting what’s coming next in our story!